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May 1962: I have a reservation at a Houston hotel for $7.50 a night, 35 copies of my college transcript and resume in a folder, and my bag is packed with a suit and three shirts. Vertis and I are at a marriage crisis point because the job market for petroleum geologists is at the bottom of a downturn.

After a Yellow Pages scan for office addresses of all the major oil companies, I pick Humble-Exxon as my first interview. Personnel--14th floor. The elevator opens. Well, here goes.

There, sitting behind a desk, is a gorgeous young woman, who smiles. I feel better already.

"Good morning. I'm Richard Mason. I'll be graduating in June with a master's degree in geology from the University of Arkansas. I'd like to apply for a job as a petroleum geologist. Could I meet with the personnel manager?"

"Let me check with Mr. Candara."

She's back in 30 seconds.

"I'm sorry, but Mr. Candara said we are not accepting applications for geologists at this time."

After Exxon, the next 10 go almost as quickly, and only two managers even kept my resume.

After a couple of days, I realize I'm competing with laid-off geologists who have five to 10 years' experience. Finding a job seems almost hopeless.

By Wednesday, I have applied to every major oil company in Houston, and on Thursday I'll start with the smaller companies. I'm discouraged.

I call Vertis and now we are both depressed.

It's Thursday afternoon and I'm desperate. I've applied to another six companies without an encouraging word. The Continental Oil Company is next: OK, 14th floor again, enter the elevator, punch the button. The door opens, I get off, as two other men get on.

I can't find the Continental office, because I've gotten off on the wrong floor. I'm starting to punch the up button when I notice lettering on the door across from the elevator. Humble Oil and Refining Company, Exploration Department, Southwest Division.

What have I got to lose? I open the door, and here I go again.

"Hello, I'm Richard Mason, a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas with a master's degree in geology. I'd like to speak with the exploration manager."

"Let me check with Mr. Loftis."

I know my chances are slim to none, but she comes back in the office and says, "Mr. Loftis will see you."

I take a deep breath and walk into his office. Mr. Loftis is smiling, and he walks over to greet me.

"Well, how's Kern Jackson doing?" Dr. Jackson is my graduate adviser, and I'm surprised.

"He's is doing fine. I had two courses under him last semester."

"Well, I've known Kern since college. He's one of the smartest geologists I've ever run across."

"Yes, sir, I've enjoyed his courses."

"Sit down, Richard. Do you have your transcript?"

"Yes, sir." I hand Mr. Loftis my college transcript and resume.

"This semester's grades are not on the transcript, but I have As. My master's thesis is on surface geological work in Madison County."

Mr. Loftis is looking it over.

"Big change from undergraduate to graduate school. What happened?"

I'm not going to say, "I goofed off for four years," so I say, "I got married. My wife takes the credit." He smiles.

"Did you really work at three university jobs, and take a full load of graduate courses?"

"Yes, sir, I did."

"I see you spent last summer as a roustabout working offshore for ODECO."

"Yes, sir, I worked on all of their rigs."

"You probably worked on one of our jobs. Did you work on the Mr. Charlie?"

"I sure did. It was a Humble job, and I cut cement sacks when you set casing."

"We made a good well on that job. The Gulf of Mexico is going to be this country's biggest oil province one day."

At least he knows I can work, I think.

It's 25 minutes later when Mr. Loftis says, "Richard, after work, I want you to meet our area geologist, Walt Launy. Meet us at 5:30 in the Top of the Sixes Club. It's in the 66 Building; top floor."

"Yes, sir, I'll be there."

At 5:30 p.m. I walk into the Top of The Sixes Club, so nervous I have to grip my leg to keep my hands from shaking. We discuss the fall football schedule, and then we talk about geology. His first comment bothers me.

"Richard, you only have one course in petroleum geology."

"Yes, sir, that's all Arkansas offers."

"Well, you have some good coursework here, but very little is focused on how to work as an exploration geologist."

"Yes, sir, but I've had both graduate and undergraduate courses in stratigraphy, and structural geology, and I did my thesis on surface geologic mapping. Those courses are the basics of oil and gas exploration." (Dr. Garner, my petroleum geology professor, gave me that quote.)

Mr. Loftis likes that answer, and senior geologist Walt Launy nods his head.

"Well, you're right. We even have to train the ones from UT and OU. They have a lot more petroleum geology courses, but they still need training."

That relaxes me, and after another 45 minutes of conversation Mr. Loftis says, "Richard, come by my office at 9 a.m. tomorrow."

I'm excited about how the interview went. It will be hard to sleep tonight.

It is 9 the next morning, and I've just stepped into Mr. Loftis' office. He immediately starts talking about Kingsville, Texas.

"Know where Kingsville is, Richard?"

"No, sir."

"Its 40 miles south of Corpus Christi near the King Ranch. Richard, some recent grads took weeks to accept or turn down a job. Would you take that long?"

"No, sir, I wouldn't."

"Good. I'm offering you a job as geologist assigned to our Kingsville office at a salary of five hundred and fifty dollars a month."

I'm reaching to shake his hand before the words are out of his mouth.

"Thank you, sir. I accept."

"Good! When can you come to work?"

I'm thinking about what I have to do before I can leave Fayetteville, and say, "I can report to work next Wednesday morning."

"That's awful quick. What about your thesis?"

"I've finished my fieldwork and the first draft. Monday morning I can start moving and be in Kingsville Tuesday night."

"Well, if you need a few more days, just give us a call, and we will cut you some slack."

"I'll be fine, sir. Where is the Kingsville office, and who do I report to?"

"It's on the King Ranch, and you'll have a pass at the gate. Report to Doug Garrett, the district geologist, and whatever you do, don't violate any of the Ranch rules."

Mr. Loftis starts the paperwork. An hour later, I'm an Exxon geologist. I shake my head, thinking: I got off the elevator on the wrong floor--and that mistake led to me being hired by Exxon. Was it blind luck, or did my guardian angel help? I believe it was the latter.

Email Richard Mason at

Editorial on 06/16/2019

Print Headline: Challenges of job hunting


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